Links for the Weekend (2023-08-25)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

On the Crushing Guilt of Failing at Quiet Time

Much of what we think about “daily devotions” is cultural (even if it can be good). Kevin DeYoung writes about what the Bible teaches about a devotional life.

I am not anti-quiet time or anti-daily devotions or anti-family worship. All of these disciplines serve God’s people well and have been around for a long time. What does not serve God’s people well is the unstated (and sometimes stated) assumption—put upon us by others or by ourselves—that Christianity is only for super-disciplined neatniks who get up before dawn, redeem every minute of the day, and have very organized sock drawers. Spiritual disciplines are great (and necessary) when the goal is to know God better. Spiritual disciplines are soul-crushing when the aim is to get our metaphysical workout in each day, knowing that we could always exercise more if we were better Christians.

Love Is the Greatest Apologetic

The love between Christians can point outsiders powerfully to Jesus.

I’ve long pondered why the epistles contain fewer exhortations to evangelize than I’d expect. They contain a great deal more about sound doctrine and how Christians are supposed to conduct themselves in the church, the family, and society. I’ve concluded this is because our lives and relationships with each other are integral to reaching the world. Word and deed accompany each other for full evangelistic effectiveness.

How to Build (or Break) a Habit

This article gives some insight into habit formation and helps us to consider how habits can affect us spiritually.

We’ve all been taught that if we want to achieve something, we need to set goals. In principle, that’s true. Yet how many goals have you set that have gone unachieved? Why didn’t they work for you? In part, because defective systems trump good aspirations. In other words, your habits undermined your goals. Goals get us nowhere without the good habits required to achieve them.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Impressive or Known. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Impressive or Known

You can either be impressive or you can be known. You have to pick one.

I’ve heard variations of this quote over the years. They’ve bounced around my head, and I’ve now seen a couple of sources pointing to Ray Ortlund for its origin. I think this is a central truth of vibrant Christian community.

The more we try to impress others, the less we will be known. Conversely, the more we allow ourselves to be known by others, the less impressive we will be. Like a playground see-saw, these realities move in opposition to one another.

Wanting to be Loved

We all have a fundamental desire to be loved by those who matter most to us. This impulse is not identical for everyone, but some expression of this desire seems so widespread as to be programmed into us.

And while we may put on a mask to be tolerated or liked by some, in order to be loved, we need to be known. We want those we care about to stay committed to us even when they know the darkest shadows of our hearts.

This, after all, is what we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his love God has pursued and changed us; we must never think God’s love is the result of our faith or some sliver of obedience. While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)!

Jesus was not persuaded to save us by our kindness or humor. He didn’t observe our gentleness or intelligence and then sign up for the incarnation and the cross. We did not impress God into forgiveness.

No. God knew us and loved us.

So, what we seek from other people is a human version of what we already have from God. Stated from the other angle, what we welcome people into with our Christian love is a faint shadow of what they can enjoy from God himself.

There’s no way around it—being known by others is risky. It is literally an act of faith. There are those who might use our mistakes and faults for harm against us. I am not advising everyone to spill all of their guts to everyone. We still need wisdom and discretion.

But in a Christian community where everyone is growing in love, the exposure scenario is less likely. As each person sees their own sin more clearly, weaponizing the sins of others becomes unthinkable.

In the end, however, we leave all outcomes to the Lord. If he knows the worst things about us and loves us still, and if our future and our lives are in his hands, then we will be able to withstand the consequences of transparency in our communities. A life of hyper-vigilant self-protection turns out to be a lonely life.

Trying to Impress

We try to impress others in dozens of ways, many of them specific to us and our relationships.

We may try to emphasize (or exaggerate) our intelligence or our adherence to an unspoken but approved list of spiritual disciplines. We think carefully and creatively. We worship God the same way you do.

Others may highlight their qualifications for the desired “in group.” We have heard of the right people, read the right books, attended the right schools. We hold the right beliefs.

Still others may try to be really, really nice. We’re sweet and kind and inoffensive. We will always affirm you and never make you uncomfortable.

Regardless of how we try to be impressive—and the above is just a small sample—we dangle a curated, false self in front of others. They might respect or admire the character we’re projecting, but we haven’t grown any closer.

How to be Known

If wanting to be impressive and wanting to be known are inherently in opposition, how can we help others know the real us?

This starts with learning more about our own unimpressiveness. In other words, we’re better able to share our real selves with others as we know our real selves. This is a process that can take time and maturity. I’ve found these below-the-surface questions helpful to ponder.

  • What makes me afraid? Why?
  • What makes me angry? Why?
  • What makes me excited? Why?
  • Where is my heart cold/warm toward the things of God? How have my affections been changing?

Once we admit that we’re wholly unimpressive and we embrace the safety God’s love provides in the gospel, we can start to let others know us. We can have honest conversations with friends where we ask and answer hard questions with transparency.

Pointing to Jesus

For those with eyes to see, this honesty is attractive. (Paradoxically, this desire to be known instead of impressive can be … impressive.) There’s no need to pretend we’re perfect or that we have it all together. There’s no need to wear the mask of competence and independence and unwavering success.

Jesus is the one who is truly impressive, and he has followed all the rules and done everything right in our place. He is the one who is always good and pure and generous, who never shades the truth. All of his goodness and uprightness has been credited to those who believe. And all of our sin has been dealt with; though we might remember and discuss our past sins, we need to fear the related guilt no more.

A community made up of honest people can’t help but point outsiders to Jesus. Only the safety and acceptance we find in the gospel can free us from the need to seek applause from others.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-08-18)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why Is It Better That Jesus Went Away?

In this book excerpt, Brandon Smith explores the surprising moment when Jesus told his disciples it was better that he went away from them. Imagine their shock!

The comfort, however, is the truth that our triune God never leaves us. Though we are intent to destroy ourselves and everything around us, he is faithful to keep moving history toward redemption. When he makes a covenant, he keeps it. When we break the covenant, he still keeps it. Though he may feel distant at times, we know he has never left us—Pentecost is proof. Every promise of God has come true, and the Holy Spirit brings the triune God’s comforting presence into our hearts, come what may.

3 Things You Should Know about Psalms

This short article provides a brief introduction to the Psalms using some facts about that book that might be surprising.

The Psalms portray the life of faith with searing honesty. They poignantly remind us that the pattern of death and resurrection that was etched into the holy humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ is the pattern that the Holy Spirit seeks to replicate in the lives of all God’s children. The book of Psalms is a divinely inspired songbook that reflects the highs and lows, the triumphs and tragedies, of God’s covenant people over a millennium. John Calvin described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” Let us sing the Savior’s songbook, lest we risk impoverishing our worship and robbing ourselves of the rich spirituality contained within its songs. 

God of Every Grace – The Story Behind the Song

Kristyn Getty explains the background and lyrics to the new hymn God of Every Grace. The song lyrics explore how God is with us in our deepest sorrow. You can listen to the song here. Here’s the chorus.

Now to the God of every grace
Who counts my tears, who holds my days
I sing through sorrows, sing with faith
O praise the God of every grace

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-08-11)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

You Must Be Weak to Be Sanctified

This is a good discussion of weakness and sanctification.

Why does the apostle reference weakness? Because he’s convinced coming to grips with one’s limits and depending on the Spirit is how sanctification works. After all, God does the sanctifying work. That’s the second qualifying clause: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work” (v. 13). We work out our salvation fearfully and humbly, knowing we’re not strong enough—but God is.

The Godliness of a Good Night’s Sleep

Like the author of this article, I too once associated exhaustion with living for the Lord. How good to be corrected! Read about how we can relate to sleep as Christians.

When we leave our beds to walk in love, we do not leave our God. His help is stronger than sleep’s healing, his wisdom deeper than sleep’s teaching, his generosity greater than sleep’s giving. He can sustain us in our sleeplessness and, in his good time, give again to his beloved sleep.

How to Become a Tech-Wise Family

This article is a distillation of Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family. Read about three fundamental choices and ten commitments that will help your family grow in wisdom as you interact with technology.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Difference Between Optimism and Biblical Hope. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Phil A for his help in rounding up links this week!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

The Difference Between Optimism and Biblical Hope

Depending on your perspective, an optimist in your life might be spring sunshine in a dreary room or a stubborn fly, banging against the window.

The Bible speaks a lot about hope, not so much about optimism. That doesn’t mean optimism is necessarily bad! (The Bible doesn’t mention pie, and only a monster would insist we avoid that.) However, both inside and outside of the church, there is confusion about hope and optimism.

What is Optimism?

Optimism is a “tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”

Have you met an optimist? They see the silver linings of dark clouds and always hold onto the possibility of things turning out well. They rarely seem discouraged or gloomy. Even when life is hard, good things are right around the corner.

It’s interesting to ponder why. On what basis does an optimist expect a sunny future?

The optimist would probably chalk their outlook up to natural disposition or upbringing. Some optimists likely base their positivity on experience—life seems more likely to go well in the future if it’s generally gone well in the past.

What is Biblical Hope?

Without clear definitions, the lines between optimism and biblical hope might appear blurry. If Christians are called to be hopeful people, are we therefore called to be optimistic?

As I’ve tried to argue previously, biblical hope is distinctive. It doesn’t depend on one’s personality or experience. Hope relies only on God.

Biblical hope is the glad expectation that God will keep his promises. In the New Testament, this hope is almost always tethered to the second coming of Jesus and the new heavens and new earth.

How is this different from optimism?

God’s promises include outcomes that are not intrinsically positive. In fact, God promises persecution and suffering for those who follow Jesus (2 Tim 3:12, John 15:20).

A hopeful Christian is confident that God is good and has ultimate good in store for each of his children. But the outcomes along the way may not be good; in fact, there might be terrible pain, loss, and sorrow for Christians in this life.

And yet, because God cannot break a promise, the Christian is absolutely sure of a glorious ending. We will see God as he is; we will dwell with him face to face; we will inhabit a new creation with glorified bodies. The curse will be no more.

Called to Hope

Hope is not incidental for the Christian—it is at the very heart of how we are to live in the world. The resurrection of Jesus gives us “a living hope.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet 1:3)

We are commanded to set our hope completely on forthcoming grace.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1:13)

Hope is something that God has called us to (Eph 1:18), and it is fuel for our joy (Rom 12:12). God is the “God of hope” and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we “may abound in hope” as well (Rom 15:13).

It is far too easy to get caught in the riptide of motivational sayings and empty, “you can do this” platitudes. God has not commanded us to be optimists; rather, he has give us all we need to abound in hope.

As we get to know our God, we see how faithful and trustworthy he is. As we learn and rehearse his promises, we grasp the riches of the gospel—Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

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Links for the Weekend (2023-08-04)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The House of Mourning Is Good for the Soul

This article takes a close look at Ecclesiastes 7:2 (“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart”). Why is mourning better than feasting?

Two houses are contrasted: the house of mourning and the house of feasting. The house of feasting would be understandably appealing. Feasting denotes celebration, liveliness, fellowship, joy. Haven’t you been at a table with friends or family and thought, “I don’t want this to end. The joy is so palpable, the company so delightful”?

On Preparing Yourself for Corporate Worship

Here is some advice on preparing your soul for Sunday morning worship.

Some Christians bemoan, “But I just don’t get anything out of the church service.” Maybe so. But often when believers express these kinds of sentiments, it’s because we don’t personally prepare ourselves for worship. We think we can haphazardly enter a worship service and assume it will be engaging because it’s a spiritual activity. We assume it’s entirely on the leaders of the church to give us a good worship experience; if we don’t have one, it must be the pastor or the music leader’s fault. But this is not the case. 

What Is Sloth?

Sloth is one of the “seven deadly sins” of antiquity. But that word might sound strange to modern ears. This article provides an explanation of sloth.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.